These were the couriers who rode for the Pony Express mail service, crossing the wilderness gap between St Joseph, Missouri and Sacramento, California. In the normal manner of horse couriers they rode fast from way station to way station, changing mounts regularly to maintain a rapid pace (stations were spaced roughly 10 miles apart which was reckoned to be about as far as a horse could be safely galloped in the circumstances) - the riders themselves changed roughly every 75-100 miles but in an emergency could ride two stages back to back, requiring up to 20 hours in the saddle. The overall route was approximately 1,900 miles which they covered in about 10 days.
A pony express rider was selected on extremely stringent criteria, held to a high standard and paid well for his troubles. He could not weigh more than 125lbs, had to have excellent horsemanship and combat skills and a general high level of initiative and self reliance. Once recruited he was then expected to take and abide by the following oath:
While I am the employ of A. Majors, I agree not to use profane language, not to get drunk, not to gamble, not to treat animals cruelly and not to do anything else that is incompatible with the conduct of a gentleman. And I agree, if I violate any of the above conditions, to accept my discharge without any pay for my services.
Further more it was expected that he should consider the survival of the mail packet a higher priority than that of himself or his horse.
In return for this - and for long days in the saddle and the strong possibility of attacks from Injuns and Bandits alike he was paid around a hundred dollars a month, plus free quarters when on layover at a station. Given the weight restriction most riders tended to be teenage boys and several significant characters of the wild west - not least "Buffalo" Bill Cody - got their first jobs with the service.
In the end, the pony express in its true form only ran for about eighteen months, but has been more or less immortalised in a variety of media.
Game and Story Use
- Not a great job for a PC, unless you like solo play, but a good background.
- Also good for NPCs - and the pony express stations make a good refuge when chased by Indians.
- In an emergency - perhaps where a lone rider can't get through - hard riding, hard fighting gunslingers might be hired to escort him. The mail must get through.
- Fairly easily copied in a lot of settings - and the horse courier network goes back far before the Romans. What was relatively unusual was for it to be a privately owned civilian operation.